It's hard to dive into this week's events without making reference to the role that technology has played in the identification of the bombing suspects in Boston, but to be quite honest, we'd rather offer some relief from the minute-by-minute news coverage. So, please don't think we're disregarding a significant news event...but it's been covered so relentlessly by so many different outlets that there's really not a lot that we can say that would be new or novel.
Other technology-related news this week:
- Microsoft came out with its quarterly earnings report, and despite a continuing consumer shift from desktop and laptop computers (which are the bread and butter of Microsoft's profits), the company is still making a ton of money -- $6 billion in the last quarter, which is an improvement over the same quarter last year. This is a company making $15 to $20 billion every year, even if they're not sexy. They've successfully put themselves in the position of a toll-bridge operator; virtually every business must pass through Microsoft in order to make money. And so, even if there's nothing hype-worthy about Windows 8 (I still think it's a step in the right direction, even if it's clunky and its apps crash more often than they should), and even if nobody's rushing to buy Windows Phones, don't be surprised when Microsoft is still around, long after some other high-profile names in technology flame out. (I'm looking at you, Facebook. Or Google.) They aren't taking risks at Microsoft on the scale of Google Glass, but they aren't cancelling projects willy-nilly like Google does, either.
- It was reported in Wired this week that Apple keeps records of questions posed to Siri for two years. They're tied to a supposedly-anonymous user ID number for the first six months, then without the ID number for another 18 months after that. Does this mean people should panic and run for the hills? No...it's clear that we, as a society, have broadly just given up hope of figuring out the right balance between the fantastic things that technology can do for us and our privacy, and just said "We'll take whatever you've got." But Apple should really be more open about what it saves and how and why. You as a consumer should be informed -- even if it's only in superficial detail, like the "Nutrition Facts" label on a box of cereal -- about who keeps data on you and why and how and for how long.
- Speaking of Apple, they're having a really tough time in China right now. After having to make apologies for the quality of their iPhone service and apps there, now the company is facing government pressure over supposed "obscenity" being spread through access to the App Store. It's hard to envy anyone running a high-tech company that has to deal with China right now. It's a huge market, which makes it practically irresistible. But the government there wants all of the benefits of technology, with none of the freedoms. Now, we know that in the long run, economic freedoms almost invariably lead to political freedoms. So the question for any tech company right now is...how long do they expect to endure political friction in pursuit of profits, and how much is it worth to go through those growing pains?
- Google says they're launching Google Fiber in Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas. In Provo, they're going to take over an existing network and build on it. In Austin, they're hoping to tap into the city's "cool" factor. In both places, they'll offer free Internet at 5 Mbps (not bad, but not outstanding by broadband standards), and higher speeds for people who pay up.
- A University of Illinois lab has produced a "microbattery" that can store equivalent amounts of energy at a fraction of the size of current batteries, and recharge 1,000 times faster. But other folks worry that packing so much energy into such a tiny space may risk fires from short-circuits.
- Dish Network made a bold move this week by offering to buy Sprint for $25.5 billion. Convergence of voice and video and data products may be the future, but this one smells a little bit like the old AOL-Time Warner merger...more like mushing things together for merger's sake, rather than need.